Software development process in Mailbird

How the Developers at Mailbird are Driven by the Idea Potential

In order to capture a good idea, it’s essential to envision its limits. You’ll know an idea is particularly good when there is a lot of opportunity to play and bend its constraints and expand the possibilities you initially saw for that concept. Jose Lopez, the head growth engineer at Mailbird, shared his insights on how their development team prioritizes projects based on their immense potential.

How the development team prioritizes projects

As an engineer at Mailbird, there is never a dull moment on our team. As avid users of our own product, we manage to maintain a level of fun and excitement by finding inspiration in the potential that the product has. Ultimately, this thirst for growth is because we know exactly what the end result should look like, and we seek to reduce the bottlenecks teams can face when there’s no spark to get things done.

How Do Great Ideas Reveal Their Potential?

We validate and align our ideas to our current projects, look at underserved markets, and scope out our competitors. We have a few things to say about how that gets done.

Validate

Every project starts with a simple idea, this can come from multiple sources such as our roadmap, user feedback, trending metrics, etc. But regardless of where it comes from, the idea doesn’t get a green light until it passes our validation checklist.  Validation implies:

  • That there is a market the idea will appeal to
  • Development is feasible within the current context of the app or applicable services
  • The idea can be leveraged differently (not bound to one use case)
  • The development costs are within budget

Upon validation, we begin exploring all potential angles from which the idea could be tackled.  In particular, we always try to find angles with low resistance and this often leads us to our underserved markets.

Find Underserved Markets

A good idea can be deemed an amazing opportunity if it happens to match an underserved market or if it can cover unserved needs. For this, social media works great! People not happy about a product or service tend to voice out their opinions with no remorse. We often come across forums where the same question is asked repeatedly without a proper resolution. By expanding on this research we can confidently measure opportunity and by targeting it, we gain tremendous momentum to skyrocket our growth.

Align Development with the Product Roadmap

Being a 100% remote team comes with challenges, ensuring everyone is on the same page is probably a very common one.  Communication in remote teams can’t be too little or too much, so having reliable remote work software and most importantly, a solid roadmap that everyone is aligned with are key elements of our growth.

Introducing a new idea isn’t always an easy feat when you are trying hard not to disrupt the workflow that’s already in motion. The idea must align with our main product offering, be that as an additional feature or as an enhancement to core functionality. Once presented to the team, understanding its impact to the timeline and deliverables and considering its impact on sales we can see alignment, we can predict the impact it will have on the active user base as well as how it can attract new customers. At this point, the idea can finally get booked into our development workflow officially.

Understand the Competition

We admit, not all of our ideas are original, sometimes we find opportunities when competitors don’t quite solve their customer’s problems or when their approach feels subpar.

In these scenarios, dissecting our competitor’s efforts and having a detailed understanding of what they attempted (and what they did wrong) gives us an upper hand. Being able to leverage competitors’ shortcomings and learning from their mistakes will also have a tremendous impact on growth. We often find shortcomings when there are fast-paced teams who rush the delivery of new products or features while introducing gaps that could have been avoided  Filling those gaps ourselves allows us to deliver higher quality products that fare better. Here are a few ways that we fill those gaps:

  • Become an authority: It’s important not to try to outshine your competitor with flashy marketing or partnerships for the sake of followers. Instead, we rely on our research to find ways to set the standard for others to follow and ultimately stand out from the rest in a positive way.
  • Outscale your competitors’ reach: One of the best ways to use potential is to see how far it can reach compared to your competitors, you can assess this by looking at their matching offerings and evaluating stability, design consistency, marketing, and overall customer happiness to name a few obvious ones. Keep pushing your innovations until you know it will easily surpass what is already available.

With an idea with clear potential in our heads, we can dive into our development cycle. We have a few key guidelines we follow every time.

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The Key Concepts of Our Development Cycle

At Mailbird, our core development cycle is always the same:

  1. Sketch out the project (short term, mid-term, and long-term)
  2. Build a Proof of Concept which validates goals
  3. Build an internal release (release candidate) with mostly production-ready features
  4. Work on a final public release

Despite a very straightforward framework, there are several factors within each stage of the cycle that we also account for. Which are, timeline, measurable results, having a “Plan B”, and plans for scaling the project if it works.

Timeline

We always consider the long term and most importantly how it will be scaled but we always work towards the short term with a minimum viable product that we can shape to perfection while we validate the results of the project on an ongoing basis.

This is particularly important for remote teams because the satisfaction from completing small projects quickly has an incredibly powerful impact on long-term plans. It gives everyone in the team a very clear progression path of micro-wins towards more complex engagements.

Measurable Impact

Depending on the project or product we generally assess two main things:

  1. Impact on traffic. Ex: an increase in search engine traffic tells us people are looking for what we are putting out there. Most importantly, it generally indicates we are lowering our Customer Acquisition Cost.
  2. Impact on sales. This can come from multiple sources as well, it may impact our Lifetime Value, increase our recurring revenue or provide us with an instant boost of liquidity to finance additional engagements.

Both of these are equally important metrics for our growth because mostly they go hand in hand. So in layman’s terms, we build towards traffic generation resources or we build towards revenue generating ideas directly. If we match either, we leverage it accordingly.

Having a Plan B

When things don’t go as planned though, and occasionally it happens, we look at other potential ways to leverage the effort put into the project. Sometimes it can be as simple as rebranding to something else, sometimes it turns into an SEO play or a Marketing one. Ultimately we always look at how to maximize our efforts by ensuring no developed resources are gone to waste.

Scaling Up

When a project does work as expected, we use it as a recipe for growth and apply similar concepts to all development areas. This helps us not only to improve our deliverables as a whole but also gives us valuable insights into our customer’s wants, needs, and everything in between. At the end of the day, we develop better products and services since scaling is a constant improvement cycle we never seem to stop feeding.

Lifespan

It’s essential to remember, each project has its own lifespan to be aware of and subjectively a unique development cycle to consider. We carefully assess resource investment on a per-project basis in order to make sure we keep a healthy balance between efforts and results while taking everything else into account.

Maintaining the Potential

With the constant development of new products or features comes the responsibility of maintaining them over time and ensuring they remain relevant. Fortunately, when we engaged in this process we were able to carefully plan for it and heavily invested in a very solid architecture which allows us not only to grow unlimitedly (as it is cloud-based) but also maintain everything very smoothly through a carefully designed CI/CD (continuous integration, continuous delivery) process across all services.

Having opted for scaling through microservices also enabled us to have a lot of flexibility when it comes to development efforts as we are not bound by one particular platform or language. This also allows us to carefully execute each project in the environment we feel most appropriate for it and defer its interoperability with other microservices through a unified API structure that is common amongst all deployments.

The downside to this type of setup isn’t too far from its upside… It is cloud-based. It means that scaling can result (and it often does) in diminishing results if we fail to carefully balance out our projects between resource utilization and the revenue which is meant to counter it. This becomes increasingly difficult to assess in very early stages where traffic-generating projects don’t immediately translate to sales and we can’t otherwise capitalize on them, thus increasing CAC (Customer Acquisition Cost).

Closing Notes

Summing things up, there are a few important lessons we consistently validate after each project:

  • Development workflows don’t need to be boring, repetitive, or mundane if they are approached with the right mindset and they answer to users’ demands.
  • Working remotely can be challenging, but you can offset its disadvantages by simplifying projects into smaller accomplishments to keep the team highly motivated and engaged.
  • Projects can be viable in multiple ways. You should work towards an MVP on the short term, while carefully considering the long run.
  • Care about your metrics, they tell you exactly what is working and what isn’t and help you to cater your projects toward success.

Last but not least, never cease to innovate. Ideas are the foundation of growth. Just make sure that each sticks to current efforts in some shape or form, otherwise, the time spent on it may not pan out as profitable. At Mailbird we’ve learned to dedicate ourselves to our metrics, yet follow where the potential of an idea can take us. In tech, things tend to shift very quickly. Being adaptable to change gets you closer to success.

Eager to learn more on this topic? Read our recent blog about software development lifecycle.

Written by
Jose Lopez

Jose has worked on the web since 1998 non-stop and is continuously evolving along the way, he is a Full Stack Developer & Cloud Engineer versed not only in development but in web technologies as a whole. His knowledge and experience have led numerous web projects to success from leaders such as Desmond Tutu and Tim Ferriss.

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